Swimming in Patchwork

{Beyond The Honeymoon}

I love water. Being in water is the only time I feel completely covered in everything I love. I was just 8 months old, the first time I was immersed in water. And since then, whenever I get in water, I never wanna get out. One of my most vivid memories happened in the shallow end at Saxon Woods pool. I must’ve been 8 or 9 and my mom and I were enjoying a much-needed break from the heat when this other little girl came up to us and asked if she was my mom. I said yes. “Then how come she’s white and you’re brown?” I don’t remember what my mom said. But she answered. With a smile nonetheless. She was a child after all. But I wished the same kindness my mother extended to her, could’ve been extended to me. To us. I wish it had been an isolated incident. I wish this behavior was specific to children. And I wish we didn’t still get questioned at 33 and 67. But we do. Sometimes its more of an accusation. And really, I don’t know what is so angering about a mother and daughter. I don’t know how you could observe the rapport between us and think we were anything else. But I don’t think that’s the point. Because nobody has ever approached me similarly, when I’ve been with my father. And we are not the same color either. But people see us as the same kind. And it makes me wonder how we define kinds. So when my mother and I walk into a restaurant, a store or other business; being silly and laughing or just chatting as we always do, and it is clear that we came together, even if our difference in skin color is just so completely bizarre that they can’t figure out who we are to each other, I wish people would not act like they don’t even believe we’re together. I wish they would not greet one of us and then look the other in the eye and use the same greeting or ask the same question, as if to say “you two are different kinds.” Because these “honest mistakes” happen quite often. And sometimes I feel like I am back in the shallow end in my hand-me-down Lisa Frank bathing suit, feeling like I’m supposed to apologize. My mother has the best listening skills of anyone I know. She is very sensitive and she adapts well to change. She will do whatever is in her power to support the people she loves. We are not the same color. But I promise we’re the same kind.

I think that the person we are, sometimes gets trapped under the person we feel we have to be in order to survive. And as I push and lift, I realize how much little Melanie tugs at my pant leg and reminds me that the heaviest pieces from my childhood are the same layered pieces in adulthood. This life can feel so heavy. This world can be so hungry. Sometimes it eats at me so ferociously; I end up wearing my entire self on my sleeve. Sometimes the line between other people’s projections and my actual self feels blurry. Because when I’m with the people I love the most; the nuances that identify our relationship to each other, are the things that seem to put us on display. I feel split between how I’m read when I’m alone and how the world receives me when I’m with my loved ones. So when I’m in a relationship, I feel highlighted when I’m holding my partner’s hand. I vacillate between feeling invisible and feeling like I’m under a spotlight. And I have been accused of all kinds of things in my life, from not really being Black to not really being a woman. But on most days, when I’m alone, most people don’t care about me either way. My assumed identity is accurate, except for one huge piece. And it was years before I could put into words how much being misread as straight, proved to feel familiar. Because when you’re being erased, all that matters is the erasing. All that matters are the pieces of yourself, falling to the floor. You look the same when you look in the mirror, but you have the distinct feeling parts of you are being cut off. And this world does not make space for differences, even when they’re pushed out by chance. So eventually, I started feeling safer alone. Tired of my parts feeling scattered, I try my best to bring all of me to everything I do. But there is no accounting for how we’re received at any given time. And I’m sure it would be a lot easier if I didn’t care. But this kind of highlighting makes me feel spread out, like a patchwork quilt.

So I’m committed to wrapping up in the length of myself and the width of my parts. Because I am not less of myself, when I am received as something else. If anything, I am more. If anything, I am completely in touch with who I am, in those moments when I’m received differently. So I am not sorry to be outed. I am sorry this world has a need for outing. And I know now that my experience of growing up biracial, prepared me for my queer identity. This world will have you feeling dishonest, when you show up as yourself. This world will ask you to apologize. But you don’t owe anyone what they want you to be. You are huge and you can’t be responsible for people who refuse to expand. I know every time I’ve been misread, misraced, misgendered, or otherwise misunderstood, it happened to expand my understanding. It happened to allow me to grow my empathy. And on the most practical of levels, it happened to allow me to understand the things my partners experience on a more visceral level. Because I’ll never know what its like to be in their skin, but I know what its like when the world wants to split the skin you’re in. So when I say I love and feel complemented by queer masculinity, I’m not just speaking about chemistry or the way they look on my arm. I’m speaking about a plan that was made before I knew who I was or who I would love in this life. Because it is bigger than who and what I am now. I don’t happen to be mixed. I don’t happen to be Black. And I sure as fuck didn’t turn out queer. I know that my identities were gifted to me so that I could live a fuller life. Everything about me that the world said was different, everything that was supposed to make me feel less than, has come full circle and saved my life. I may not look the way they say beauty looks or love the way they healthy loves. I may not fuck the way they say normalcy fucks. But I’ve survived. And I’m beautiful because of it. So now I’m wading in the water until the person appears who feels spiritually similar. I am wet and naked, hands open and body covered in patchwork; no longer in the shallow end, waiting for the one who will make sense of my quilt.

This life is full of births, re-births, and new beginnings. Everything that ends, leads us to another beginning. So I breathe in the changes and exhale that which is no longer serving me. I am not all breath- I am wet transformation before and after. And as the last year ended, I held my hurt in my hands. On the eve of New years Eve, I held myself at my sides, with hope in my flesh. I sobbed into my own skin. Drenched in my own wounds, I cried over and over, with my whole body. Tears shook like five years old. Each gasp was so familiar. And I felt so badly for my child-self. Sometimes I still feel sad and scared, knowing there is probably another person in this world that understands, but I haven’t met them yet. And this is all part of my path. I don’t regret anything up to this point. I know I’m not here to suffer. I know I’m meant to love. And I know I’m ready because I’m going through the process of releasing the last bits of previous loves and sometimes its painful. We hold space for deep loves, long after they’ve gone. Even if the space is small and quiet, we hold it- often without even realizing, until we try to make space for another. But I’m ready to make room, so I am letting go. And I feel the skin of almost, sliding through my fingers like tears. Like memories. Like the loneliness that is being in a relationship with someone who is not your best match. Like the pain you feel, when you’ve both tried so much. Like almost isn’t enough. But its enough to know my love is out there. Its enough to know there’s a reason for all this. And it’s not because I deserve pain. Its because I needed to know what happens when you get to the other side.

I think the proposed paradigm for satisfying romantic relationships, leaves a lot of people out. And I don’t think people who fall outside of the Venn Diagram of this paradigm are more “needy.” I think they’re more complicated, and almost always more interesting. They’re usually more creative and they’re almost always more sensitive. And it is this enhanced sensory experience that pleads with us to write, dance, paint, or take beautiful photographs. It is this experience of feeling deeply that inspires us to be leaders, organizers, and activists in a world that says we shouldn’t be here at all. Because we see things that other people don’t. Our paths are bumpy, so we experience the world in a more nuanced way. We see beauty in pain and we translate grey areas for people who speak only black and white. We are not less successful in life or love because we fall outside. In essence, we are the most successful because we transform our pain to art and activism as a life process. And we do take longer to find love because we are more aware of ourselves and the world. And we will only match with another aware person. So we do have different needs. We need to make noise and make art to survive. And our art makes other people survive. People will try to convince us that this experience of being outside, means we’ve failed at life. But we aren’t trying to fit in. We’re trying to bring other people out. We don’t fail at life. We carry it. And we suffer when we try to fit into the tiny space the world offers for outsiders. So we eventually start to create our own spaces and at some point we realize that its better on the outside, but we still have a lot to carry. So we put our art and our words out into the world and hope the world loves us back. We know that if one person is touched, its all worth it. We stop looking for a bigger space, because we’ve already made our own.

I think love and survival are the same thing. I have spent years learning how to love the whole of me. And I will continue to love every bit of me, regardless of what is brought to me, pushed onto me, or done to me. I will continue to love the length of me, even if I end up inflicting pain on myself. I will turn right around and love myself. I will love me when I am hard to love, and when I can barely remember what about me there is to love. This was something I had to learn. And this is why I’m still here. And at my core, I learn differently. The way I understand logic, concepts, and patterns is different. My emotional learning style is different too. And the way I construct intimacy feels deep and naked in a world full of layered hollowness. I feel emotionally and intimately outside in this world. But I am still deserving of love. More layers sometimes means more work, but it is worth it. I think our emotional learning styles are established early on, but they’re developed over a lifetime. I think they develop well when we’re able to feel and be seen by those who are important to us. And I think we’re most likely to learn how to have our own needs met if there is enough space for us in our families and in the world. But sometimes we have no family to speak of. And sometimes we need more space. Sometimes we’re fluent in the language we learned in our homes, but when we try to connect with other people, it doesn’t translate well. It has nothing to do with intelligence or emotional intelligence. It has to do with opportunities to learn. It comes down to the benefit of having something versus having to learn it later. We’ll spend our lives learning about our emotional systems, but our best learning happens when we have mutual love with people who see and validate the whole of us. And sometimes we don’t make connections like this until later in life. So it feels as though our language for learning is different. Because it is. And although it feels lonely, it is not a deficit. It is simply a difference. And it is these differences that have woken me up in the middle of the night to write a poem or make a photo collage. I think its a gift.

So I don’t believe in pathologizing people with “trust issues.” If you’re slow to trust, it’s probably because you’re still learning. I would rather somebody take the time to learn their own language before they try to teach it to me. And if you cannot trust at all, it is probably because you’ve spent your life trusting yourself to know who or what is healthy for you, and you’ve still ended up hurt. You’ve still been misunderstood. You’ve still been left. And now you probably lack trust in yourself. But that is a point to grow from- not a point to stop at. If you keep finding yourself with people who don’t appreciate or understand you, its probably because you recognize something beautiful in them and you’re focusing on that. And your ability to see beauty even through hurt, is the thing that’s saved your life. You see deep beauty in people because you see it in yourself. So in some way, you must be able to see how beautiful you are, regardless of what you’ve ever believed was wrong with you. You must know that beauty is a whole person- not just pretty parts. And the sooner we realize that it is this same ability that allows us to be great lovers, friends, parents, and mentors, the sooner we will find ourselves with a well-matched love. Beauty recognizes beauty. And it comes in all kinds. A beautiful person isn’t necessarily a person who’s been through a lot. But most of the time, it is.

I think there’s a way to talk about why certain patterns keep showing up in our lives, without blaming ourselves for the pain we endure as a result of these dynamics. I think we’re missing the point when we insist on blaming. We are responsible for the way we treat people. We are not responsible for the way they treat us. We cannot make somebody treat us badly and we don’t ask for painful situations or deserve pain. But if we keep seeing the same patterns in our relationships, regardless of how much we try to get away from them, I think something spiritual is going on. And yes, we’re spiritual beings having a human experience- not the other way around. But its in these cyclical experiences that I feel most in touch with my higher self. And I think that when we fail to understand why a particular relationship isn’t serving us, it will show up again in another person or form. Sometimes it will show up in the same person but when we look at them, we can only see how beautiful they are. So we tell ourselves they must’ve changed- even though its unlikely they’ve changed enough for us to have a different outcome. But just because something keeps showing up, it doesn’t mean you’re asking for it. History gets repeated when we need the knowledge, but that isn’t the same as asking for the pain. And a lot of times, we suffer unnecessarily because we’re attempting to resist pain. We deny that the dynamic is familiar, so we end up suffering more. I think the most expansive thing I’ve ever done in this life was to start to appreciate why my history was being repeated on multi-levels, without attaching blame to myself over getting hurt by it. This was clear when I acknowledged that I wasn’t to blame for being misread, and when I made the choice to stop being in an on-again/off-again relationship that kept producing the same results. Some things just are. It is not in our power to try to change other people or their experience of us. We can only change ourselves. And in relationships where people keep hurting us, it is not because we’ve stuck around and therefore, deserve it. Relationships don’t happen to even a score. I think when relationships are unusually difficult, its because we have some karmic things to work through with that particular person. And although these relationships can be very painful, they don’t happen because we deserve to suffer. They happen so we can grow. That’s why so many of us find ourselves in relationships that replicate the problematic dynamics from our childhood.

We often feel drawn to certain people or dynamics, without knowing why. But we see some of our most extensive growth within the contexts of our romantic relationships. I don’t believe our first or worst heartaches happen at the hands of our partners. I think they happen when there is a disconnect between our needs and the kind of love our parents and care-taking relatives are available for. Nobody wants to relive trauma or neglect. But we choose people who in some way, remind us of the source of our trauma, because we are desperate to try to make sense of it. Its a way to get another chance. We’re trying to resolve that which once shattered our core. We’re trying to pick up the pieces. And when our pieces are scattered; it often presents as dissociation, low self-esteem, unwarranted anger, or fears of enmeshment. In many cases, we’re dealing with more than one of these issues at a time. In most cases, we spend much of our love lives choosing partners who either mirror these issues or trigger them. And it is so painful and confusing,. Most people don’t understand and some will even lash out at you for staying in the relationship. Often we lash out at ourselves too, because of the confusion. And it hurts because all heart aches hurt. But we suffer because this kind of disconnect is familiar. It isn’t the first time we’ve felt let down by love. And it isn’t the only kind of love we’ve felt separate from. But understanding the pattern is a way to start the healing process. I realize now that my most abusive relationships occurred during times when I was abusing myself. I certainly wasn’t asking for the abuse. And I certainly didn’t want it. But I was not treating myself well. I don’t think we’re responsible for the problematic coping mechanisms we learned when we were growing up. But we are responsible for creating new ones as adults. When the person or people who were supposed to take care of you, end up harming you, it becomes hard to separate out what you actually need in a relationship. Its difficult to imagine what we want love to look like and feel like. And this informs our romantic relationships more than anything. So it took awhile for me to understand why push and pull dynamics were so attractive to me. It took a long time for me to understand why I felt like I had to endure pain in order to get some semblance of love. Why I had to chase love, be made to feel like I was hated, and then chase love back into my arms again- making me feel like I must be causing the cycle or asking for it. And I don’t subscribe to binary ideas about self-love. I think you can still love yourself, while being involved in a dynamic that is not serving you. I think that self-love is the thing that helps you survive. There were times that I stayed because I felt stuck. And I believe that if you feel stuck, then maybe its because you still have more to learn from that experience. Its a painful idea. But if you shame yourself into leaving when you’re not ready, you will surely go back. You will just reinforce the idea that you don’t deserve better. And you’ll return to what you know isn’t better because you think its easier to be right than to start again. You may even blame yourself for trying to make it work. But deep down we know that trying is really all we can do in this life. We cannot hate ourselves into change. But we can love ourselves into starting over.

If you’ve had a lot of life lessons, its because you’ve needed them. And that’s a compliment. It means you’re capable of tremendous growth. You will never stay still. You will just keep growing. So don’t run from growing pains. You cannot swim through to the other side, if you aren’t willing to get your feet wet. If we are to challenge the systems that blame people for what was done to them, then we are to challenge ourselves when we use what was done to us as a reason to stay stuck in pain after the fact. We are not to blame for what happened to us or the ways in which we get stuck because our emotional and nervous systems don’t seem equipped to process what happened. But there is so much power in evolving past a place we thought we couldn’t go. I try to look closely at the space of “can’t,” because often there is an opening. And that opening is made possible by will. If we’re willing to try, then we’re doing something different. And this signals to ourselves and The Universe that we don’t believe the negative self-talk that manifested as a result of what happened. We know that that critical voice is a recording, not an insight. We know it’s not a new story or a true story. And on some level, we know that being unable to trust as a result of being mistreated, is natural. It is not a thing to give ourselves or others “tough love” about. It is not a reason to try to verbally beat ourselves or our loved ones into change. But using shame as a motivator is a way that we extend the abuse that was already done to us. And this retraumatization is a survival system, so it won’t be undone overnight. In some way, it seems as though we think shame helps us to be proactive. We must think its a way to give ourselves a push when we need to make necessary changes. But there is nothing loving or helpful about shame; whether it comes from a parent or loved one or own selves. It’s simply a script that we learn in childhood; and read from when something happens that reminds us we can’t control everything. We memorize these lines and spit them out as a way to resist the fact that to be alive: is to be vulnerable. We spend so many years being embarrassed by our humanness; we become embarrassed by other people’s human parts too. So we try to shame them into better. But shame is fear and fear is hate. The only thing hate knows how to do is hate. Hate won’t make anyone or anything change. We may even think shame is a helpful tool to “teach” people how to grow. But the only thing shame teaches us is how to blame ourselves for being human. There are no parts of us that are broken- just parts that haven’t yet learned how to work together. And it will happen, but we have to start with love. We start and end with love.

I think the thing that makes people fall in love, is when they meet someone who instinctively understands things about them, without being told. I think the thing that will make me fall in love, and the thing that will allow me to trust, is sameness. Someone who’s the same kind. Someone who understands things about me right away. And someone who will learn the rest. Someone who will love the whole of me. I know enough to know that love is pure and it doesn’t come with ifs. We are more complicated than tiny boxes of perfect. Boxes are small, but arms can make room to fit. And every time I make room for myself, I know somewhere, someone else is making room for me too. I know I’m closer to meeting someone who’s the same kind. And I can imagine what my beloved looks like, tastes like and loves like. If I were to write a letter to them, it would probably sound like this:


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